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Early next morning a lorig train of buses passed through
the gates of the sanatorium. While they were still at the
porch, Major Struchkov, sitting on the footboard of one
of the buses, had struck up his favourite song about the
ash-tree. The song was taken up by those in the other
buses, and the farewell greetings, wishes of good luck,
Burnazyan's witticisms and the parting advice that Zino-
chka was shouting to Alexei through the bus window were
all drowned by the simple but significant words of this old
song which had long been forgotten, but which had been
revived and had become popular during the Great Patriotic
And so the buses drove through the gates, carrying
with them the deep, harmonious strains of this melody.
When the song came to an end the singers fell silent,
and nobody uttered a word until the first factories and
workers' settlements on the outskirts of the city flashed
past the bus windows.
Major Struchkov, still sitting on the footboard of his
bus with his tunic unbuttoned, smilingly admired the
landscape. He was in a most cheerful mood; this eternally
wandering soldier was again on the move, travelling from
one place to another, and he felt in his element. He was
going to some unit, he did not yet know which, but
whichever it was, it was home to him. Meresyev sat
silent and anxious. He felt that his greatest difficulties
still lay ahead, and who could tell whether he would be
able to surmount those new obstacles?
Straight from the bus, not even troubling to arrange
for lodgings for the night, he went to see Mirovolsky.
Here he met with his first stroke of ill luck. His well-
wisher, whom he had won over with such difficulty,
was away; he had flown on some urgent official mission
and would not be back for some time. The official Alexei
spoke to told him to put in an application in the regu-
lation way. Forthwith he sat down by the windowsill,
wrote out the application and handed it to the officer in
charge, a thin, little man with tired eyes. The latter prom-
ised to do all he could and advised Alexei to call again
within two days. Alexei pleaded, begged and even